Log #16h Western Isles & Hebrides

August 30, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 16 Scotland, The Logs

Log #16h Western Isles & Hebrides

Written Aug. 30, 2000
At Menai Bridge, Wales
Covers the period July 1 to July 3, 2000

Happy Dominion Day! Today is July 1, the day Canada celebrates its Confederation as the Dominion of Canada, except now it is simply called Canada Day.  We left the quiet harbour of Loch Toscaig and motored 14 miles up to Acairseid Mhor on Rona, a lovely well sheltered loch about a half mile in from the open water of the Sound of Raasay. Identifying the entrances to many of these lochs is difficult, as the openings often merge with the background terrain. However, we have found the Garmin GPS very accurate and valuable for plotting and arriving at a waypoint close enough to the opening for us to visually identify the entrance and make our way in cautiously, taking note of the state of the tide, tidal currents, and the various shoals that are awash at low or high tide. We entered between the southeast side of Eileen Garbh and Rona, wending our way past unmarked shoals to anchor at the inner end of the loch, northeast of Eilean na h’ Acarseid. The pilot book we used, Martin Lawrence’s  “Pilot to Skye & Northwest Scotland”, caused us extra caution as it said, “Survey information for Acarseid Mhor seems to be under a spell, and drying heights of rocks shown on the plan are only approximate, or even positively doubtful.  …new rocks are still being discovered.” That word “discovered” is ominous. However, we made it in with no problems, to have the whole loch to ourselves.

Since it was Dominion Day, we dressed ship overall. Veleda looked quite festive in her colourful livery, the only boat in the whole loch! “Cheers for CANADA!”

The island, 2,298 acres  but no resident population,  is now owned by a Danish lady, bought in 1992 for only £250,000, a bit above the current average house price in London. She also has “preemption rights” on 142 acres at the north tip of the island currently occupied by the Ministry of Defence for submarine and torpedo ranging devices. Two stories related to this type of base involves whales and fishermen. There is a fear that whales are disoriented by the ultra low frequency sonar being used, and some have been inexplicably killed or beached, possibly injured by such emissions. Two have been found beached in the area in the past year. The second involves the secrecy with which testing is conducted in the area for the Royal Navy and NATO ships. Most naval operations are reported in Notices to Mariners, for vessels to be aware of exercises or areas off limits for trawling or anchoring, because of seabed installations. However these testing facilities have been so secret that sometimes, no notices are put out, and fishermen have occasionally trawled and hauled up millions of pounds worth of secret electronic listening devices, the locations for which were not reported in Notices to Mariners.

There are still some sheep and cattle on the island, and a cautionary sign warning of a bull. As we hiked up through the island, we saw some cattle, no bull. The walking was difficult off the paths or dirt roadways. It was one of the few nice warm sunny days we have had since leaving Copenhagen in mid May. Both Judy and I went shirtless. There were ruins of a village and a church cave that we didn’t explore, as walking through the boggy heather and gorse was most uncomfortable.  The island at one time had a population of up to 200 and was haven to pirates who preyed on shipping passing through the Sound of Raasey, as the well-concealed natural harbour of Acairseid Mhor (Gaelic for Big Harbour) was at one time known as Port nan Robaireann (Robbers’ Port). However the Danish lady who owns the island has kept the cottage in good repair and has a shower and toilet facilities made available on occasion to visiting boaters. These were not operational when we were there as no one was using the cottage at the time.

That evening another boat eased into the loch and anchored 100 yards off our stern. It was a local young man who singlehanded his 27 foot sloop up from the Kyle of Lochalsh at the foot of the Skye bridge. He was a bit surprised at seeing Veleda fully dressed, alone in the harbour. Others who set sail with him did not want to came this far, and so he completed the trip alone. I had a nice conversation with him and picked up some local knowledge, including the anecdote of the fishermen hauling up secret seabed listening devices.

When we came to leave the next day, – FOG! We have been fortunate so far in that we have experienced no fog in the UK, and only once off the Netherlands coast and once in sailing into Goderich on Lake Huron, for our two years afloat. We knew we had open sea from Rona up the North Minch to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, but did we have the visibility to navigate our way out of Acairseid Mhor into the open water? Could we navigate into Stornoway if it was fog-shrouded? We were under a bit of pressure to set off for two reasons. One was that we hoped to rendezvous with Pete and Anne Harris, friends from Elliot Lake in Canada, by July 3 or  4 in Stornoway. The other was that we ran out of propane last night and had a very limited butane stove for any hot food or drink. So if we wanted to have hot meals, we would need to get to a location for a propane tank refill.

We find that while cruising, a British 6 kg tank will last for only four or five weeks. While we were at Limehouse Basin Marina in London for the winter a tank would last six to eight weeks. However, there we had shore power for our hot water heater. While cruising we have to heat water up on our propane stove if we haven’t been running the engine. Our engine is equipped with a heat exchanger that heats water when running, otherwise our hot water heater has to use shore power to work. Thus the extra use of propane for hot water, when cruising.

We do not want to carry a second tank of propane as it would have to be strapped on deck, and we do not want a filled propane tank stored below decks in case of any leakage. Propane is heavier than air and if it leaked would accumulate in the bilge, then BOOM, whenever we tried to light our propane stove. The propane tank we use is located in a locker in the cockpit with an overboard vent so that no leaked gas can enter the boat. We bought a butane gas stove in Denmark, but so far have been unable to find replacement butane cylinders for it. We only have one and a half cylinders left as a reserve when we run out of propane. When we came to the UK, we switched our Canadian tank and hookup to the British system. We have to struggle to get the 9 kg tank into our propane locker, but at least it fits. We will have to get a variety of systems as we go throughout Europe, as they do not have them standardized as we do between Canada and the US. However, we got several standard fittings to attach our regulator to whatever fittings are used in other European countries for their tanks. We’ll see how it works out.

Anyway, the fog was not too thick for us to navigate out into the open waters of the North Minch en route to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, the northernmost island of the Outer Hebrides, 44 miles away. So off we went. The fog cleared a bit, to be replaced by force 6 to 7 north winds, over 30 knots, causing us to have to motor into the heavy winds and 2 to 3 meter seas most of the way. Unpleasant! We entered Stornoway Harbour to be greeted by a grey seal who almost came aboard, he was so close to us as we entered in the grey misty cool conditions. This was our most northern port at 58 12.6 N, and 006 23.4 W, about parallel to Ketchikan, Alaska. The sun, when it was out, did not set until after 2300, and I frequently found myself reading by natural light in the cockpit at 2330.

The Hebrideans are religious and nothing was open on a Sunday evening. It was worse than small town Ontario where they roll up the sidewalks on Sundays. So we had supper at a “very modest” hotel, but at least we didn’t have to cook, since we were out of propane anyway. The food was at least warm. We also later found out that we took a wrong turn and missed a good Indian restaurant that was also open on Sundays. Oh well, we got to it a couple of days later.

The next day, July 3, was our second anniversary of living on board Veleda. We set sail from Toronto on July 3, 1998, and have traveled over 12,500 miles since then, over 2,000 miles since leaving London in mid April. So we dressed ship again for our anniversary at sea. We met Peter, Anne, their daughter, her fiance, and Peter’s English cousin whom they were visiting, the same day. It was good to see old friends. I taught Anne in a Psych class at Laurentian University many years ago, and they were with me on our 39 foot center cockpit charter boat, the Ruah Shanti, in the Florida Keys in the early ‘80s, and we met them again in the Florida Keys while on Christmas holidays a few years later. Peter is quite an enterprising individual, and if any of you would like to switch a sailing vacation for a couple of weeks at a lovely cottage in Northern Ontario outside of Elliot Lake, Peter is the man!

We enjoyed their company for a few days, renting a car and travelling to the historical sights of the Isle of Lewis. More about these sights in my next log.